Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Philosophy (Ph.D)



First Advisor

Amy M. King

Second Advisor

Steven Mentz

Third Advisor

Granville Ganter


Did Jane Austen precede Charles Dickens in pointing out air pollution in the big cities? Did she predate Elizabeth Gaskell in delineating the odd blending of rural and industrial towns? And did she surpass Mary Elizabeth Braddon in acknowledging the unusual cultivation of fruits in hothouses? Indeed, Austen antedated Victorian novelists in predicting early signs of environmental manipulation and identifying the attitudes and practices that led to the ecological collapse of early nineteenth century England. In Emma, Isabella’s health blooms in the fresh air of Highbury as opposed to London’s “bad air;” an indication of air pollution wreaking havoc on the health of city dwellers. In Mansfield Park, Fanny laments the deforestation of an entire avenue of trees at Sotherton estate; a manifestation of humans’ greatest impact on nature. In Northanger Abbey, Isabella Thorpe faces the daily aggravation of Bath’s metropolis chaos; an attestation to urbanization gradually absorbing rural towns. Meanwhile, Catherine disapproves General Tilney’s hothouse enclosure, which is a testament to the awkward hybridization of plants’ species. These incidents are the key indicators of an environmental breakdown that Austen notices during and perhaps before the time she published her novels. Therefore, this dissertation will reconceptualize her response to nature and place her novels at the forefront of ecocriticism. Further, this ecological discussion will cross the ocean and extend its argument to Lydia Maria Child and Catharine Maria Sedgwick: two American authors who are Austen’s contemporaries. Child’s Hobomok and Sedgwick’s A New England Tale are equally involved in revealing the harmful practices that affect the American wilderness. Their observations present nature as often exploited by England’s imperial ambitions. Thus, building on Lawrence Buell’s definition of literary texts as “acts of environmental imagination” that make “the world [feels] more or less precious, endangered, or disposable” (Writing for an Endangered World 3), this dissertation will discuss their key novels—Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion, Sedgwick’s A New England Tale, and Child’s Hobomok—as acts of environmental imagination that perceive nature as a realm of unsurpassed beauty yet, often threatened and endangered.

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